Saturday, September 19, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: We Can Be Who We Are: Movie Musicals from the '70s

This is a large book, but it's remarkably swift and "digestible" to read. I chose to read about the movies I liked best, but could not resist reading about the ones that were so-so. But author Lee Gambin writes with such enthusiasm and conviction, every chapter is fascinating and entertaining, whether the film is familiar of not. Some of the reviews are combined in a single section and others are given more lengthy examinations.

The obvious '70s films are here, like Grease, Saturday Night Fever, Fiddler on the Roof, Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell, even Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. What is truly marvelous is that a lot of films that are usually tossed aside or barely acknowledged in most film books are included--like Pufnstuf, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Journey Back to Oz, Raggedy Ann & Andy and Sherman Brothers musicals like Charlotte's Web, The Magic of Lassie, Snoopy Come Home, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn--and are discussed with a respect and sense of importance rarely if ever afforded to them.

Gambin also considers TV specials as valid musicals of the '70s and why not? He reviews several Rankin/Bass classics like Santa Claus is Comin' to Town and The Easter Bunny is Comin' To Town, plus TV versions of Broadway shows like Applause and It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's Superman!. You'll even find the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, The Paul Lynde Halloween Special and Hanna-Barbera's KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park!

Gambin often puts the subtexts and messages of the films under a microscope, much as a college professor would in a film class. It's his book and his valid opinion, but some might be taken aback by some of the things he interprets. The book covers material from A to Z and from G-rated to X-rated, so the reader will be exposed to very mature subject matter and politically incorrect verbiage inherent in films that are of their time.

The book does, however, have misspellings, errors and grammatical issues here and there. The interviews are presented unedited, which means that repetitions and extraneous phrases are intact. That's great from an historic point of view, but it makes the reading somewhat tedious and is not a favor to the interview subjects (from my experience, they don't mind a little gentle editing). It would have also been helpful if the table of contents included the titles of the films covered. However, the interviews are pure gold and the overall book is so thorough on so many points that it is still recommended.

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